Mixed Feelings From The Masses Awaiting Tesla's New Model 3

Waiting for Tesla
Waiting for Tesla
Claire Ballentine

PALO ALTO — While his high-school classmates were blowing their money on Chipotle burritos and concert tickets, Truman Hale was saving up for a Tesla. In March of last year, after years of penny pinching, he plunked down a $1,000 deposit on a Model 3.

Now a 21-year-old student at Arizona State University, he's eager for more information about what will be his first car, which he hopes will be delivered before graduating in December 2018. "I want to only own electric cars," he said. "I'm riding a bike because I'm saving for this car."

"The lack of information received from Tesla makes me 100% more nervous'

Hale is one of hundreds of thousands of Model 3 reservation holders in limbo, with deposits paid but little clarity about the status of their car when they'll get it, which options it'll come with and what price they'll ultimately pay. Many are hoping Tesla Inc."s Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk will enlighten them at the handover party for the first 30 customers being webcast Friday.

The Model 3, a more accessible Tesla for those who can't afford the Model S or X, has inspired fervor among electric-car enthusiasts and Musk fans. Priced at $35,000 before options or incentives, it will be Tesla's least-expensive vehicle yet, and excitement over its impending release has helped drive the Palo Alto, California-based carmaker's shares up 60% this year. Still, the lack of information has some reservation holders getting antsy.

Blind Deposits

Tesla reported last spring that 373,000 people had placed deposits for the Model 3 and hasn't given updated reservation figures since. Those who have put down deposits don't know where they fall in the wait list or what month or year their new cars will be available. A Tesla spokesperson said more details will be released Friday and declined to comment further.

The lack of information received from Tesla "makes me 100% more nervous," said Patrick Herrity, a 34-year-old business consultant in Virginia who made his Model 3 reservation online. He said he understands the company is being secretive to ward off competitors but hopes this week's event will shed more light on his next ride.

Riding a toy Tesla Photo: Damon Higgins/ZUMA

What Herrity wants is a fully-loaded Model 3 with all-wheel drive and a sunroof — options that won't be available in the first cars to roll off the assembly line in Fremont, California. Musk has said the Model 3 will initially be built with the simplest design, unlike the feature-heavy Model X sport utility, which was plagued by early production problems.

Additional options will come later, but Herrity said he doesn't know whether they'll be available by the time his number's called. "I've been driving the 2009 Corolla that I bought out of college," he said. "I want a fun, new car to drive."

The longer reservation holders have to wait, the more expensive their cars may end up being. The U.S. begins to phase out the $7,500 federal tax credit buyers receive for purchasing electric cars once each manufacturer has sold 200,000 vehicles. Tesla likely will cross that threshold in 2018, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance projections.

Some would-be Model 3 buyers may not be willing to wait. Hilary Bumgarner, who works for a technology company outside of Sacramento, California, said she is considering canceling her Model 3 reservation. She's wants to see what the Model 3 would cost with her desired upgrades, and if she can't get it by the end of the year, Bumgarner said she'll instead buy a used Model S.

Musk has encouraged reservation holders to upgrade to the higher-priced Model S, rather than wait for a no-frills Model 3. In May, he told analysts that Tesla's net reservations for the Model 3 "continue to climb week after week" and declined to give specifics.

Bumgarner said she thought she would receive notice about her spot in line but Tesla hasn't delivered any news. "I'm somewhere in the first couple hundred thousand," she said.

Other early Model 3 enthusiasts have already backed out. Cathy Gilabert, a 35-year-old veterinarian in Nevada, signed up for the newest Tesla in April 2016 before canceling six months ago upon realizing she didn't like the car's dashboard layout or how low to the ground it was. Already a Model S owner, she has her eye on a Model X for its extra room.

The Tesla X presented at the Geneva International Motor Show Photo: Uli Deck/ZUMA

David Ventimiglia said he canceled his reservation not because of the car but due to Musk. The 45-year-old software engineer in San Francisco said he was bothered by the CEO's participation on two of Donald Trump's advisory councils and said Musk "made a big show out of stepping down" after the president pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord.

Ventimiglia said he got swept up in the fervor surrounding the Model 3, with several friends and his girlfriend all signing up for reservations.

"That's not a practical way to approach a car," he said, adding that he was fully reimbursed for the deposit as promised. "If I want an electric car, there are other electric cars coming out sooner."

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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